Kommando Leopard (1985)

What's with all the red?

What’s with all the red?

Dear reader, I’m emigrating in a few weeks, so until I’m done and settled at the other end, reviews may become a little more infrequent and random, as I work my way down the pile of DVDs I haven’t seen yet, or wasn’t sure about taking with me. Today’s top of the pile is the second movie made in the three-movie deal that British TV star Lewis Collins signed with producer Erwin C. Dietrich, following the not-terribly-good “Code Name: Wild Geese” – returning from that, along with Collins, are director Antonio Margheriti and co-star Klaus Kinski.


It’s also one of the final entries in the “Macaroni Combat” genre (which definitely doesn’t slide off the tongue as easily as “spaghetti Western”). From the 60s to the late 80s, mostly Italian produced, filmed either there or in the Philippines, war movies were made for the international market, but unlike the westerns, none of them are well-remembered or particularly beloved today. Perhaps “Hornet’s Nest” with Rock Hudson, or “Anzio” with Robert Mitchum and Peter Falk? But anyway, the genre died a death in the late 80s and we’ve been there to cover it with “Strike Commando” and “Strike Commando 2”.


Lewis Collins, the Englishman, is Enrique Carrasco, who evidently moved away from the unnamed Latin American dictatorship at a young age and lost the accent (I was about to say he lost the skin tone too, but it seems this country has a very random racial base, mostly Filipino-looking though). He’s back, though, and is now a beloved guerrilla commando (the “Leopard” of the title, possibly a reference to the 1963 classic “The Leopard”, with Burt Lancaster), and we meet him blowing up a dam with his buddy, the Scottish soldier Smitty.


They’re fighting against the military dictatorship of “The General” and his sidekick Silveira (Kinski), and I can’t help but think they could have done with just a smidgeon more explanation as to who everyone was and why they were fighting. You assume that the English guy is a mercenary but he’s a beloved local figure; and when, later on, the sole female rebel, Maria (Cristina Donadio) throws a guy out of a hospital bed so one of her troops can have the space, it’s reasonable to think that the rebels must be scumbags too (it turns out the guy she was throwing out was a Government soldier, but we certainly weren’t told that at the time). Although, when Silveira’s men slaughter an entire village, the lines become a little clearer.


There’s a curious splitting of the duties of the “lead role”, with Collins doing all the fighting, and Manfred Lehman as Padre Julio, the guy in charge of the hospital in the bombed-out village where most of the action takes place. He has the romance subplot and the dramatic sacrifice and is a pretty decent actor; it’s almost at the stage where you think it was a whole movie about him but they brought Lewis Collins in at the last minute for some machismo.


A lot of stuff happens in “Kommando Leopard”, and when it comes to a crescendo at the halfway point, it’s a similar amount of plot and action as most movies we review manage in their entire running time. There are twists and turns of plot, arrests and escapes, and the tactics used by the Government to defeat Carrasco are actually smart – they trick him into attacking the wrong plane, but when he smells a rat, blow it up themselves (with 185 kids on board!), blame it on him and do a leaflet drop in his jungle heartland telling everyone what he did. But is that too far for the country’s other military leaders?


Collins emotes a few times, but he’s still way too much of a blank slate to be much of a leading man. He reminds me of Sam Worthington, in terms of “how did that guy get all these leading roles?” Kinski, allowed to use his own voice in this one (he was dubbed in “Code Name: Wild Geese”), isn’t as wild and OTT as you’d hope, but is still the most fun thing about it. Lehman is excellent, and “That Guy” extraordinaire Luciano Pigozzi is fun too.


The locations are fantastic – looking on IMDB, it was partly filmed in Maracaibo, Venezuela, although that seems to be a bustling metropolis, so the worn out looking villages and buildings they filmed in must have been Pagsanjan, Philippines. Kudos to the person who found the incredible-looking disused church, authenticity on that scale makes a low budget look gigantic (Pagsanjan was also the location for some of “Apocalypse Now”).


And a quick word about the miniatures, some of the finest miniature work I’ve seen in anything other than the biggest-budget Hollywood fare. The only one that looks even a bit dodgy is the plane that blows up at around the 1-hour mark, as its angle and speed look completely unnatural; but everything else is superb. The dam at the beginning and the oil refinery at the end are really well done – apparently, something like half the movie’s budget went on those effects, and it shows. There’s also some underwater explosions, and it’s such a cool visual that it makes you realise how rarely you see it done in this sort of cinema.


If, for instance, your friend James brings round all three 80s Lewis Collins macaroni combat DVDs and insists you watch one, I’d go for this.


Rating: thumbs up



Code Name: Wild Geese (1984)

Most misleading DVD cover ever?

Most misleading DVD cover ever?

For British people of a certain age, Lewis Collins occupies (still, probably) a big place in their psyches. As the former SAS paratrooper and mercenary turned anti-terrorism operative Bodie, Collins and Martin Shaw (as Doyle) kicked ass, indulged in light-to-medium sexual harassment of women and saved the day for the UK in “The Professionals”, which ran from 1977 to 1983. Loved by many, but…I never watched it. I was 7 when it finished and, so the story goes, Martin Shaw almost immediately disowned it and blocked any repeats til the mid 90s, by which time I was firmly in the grasp of the nerdy interests I still have. Collins, on the other hand, loved it, and got himself a black belt and joined the Paratroop regiment of the Territorial Army – he was also a drummer in early 60s Liverpool and turned down the chance to audition for the Beatles, the idiot.


So, “The Professionals” was a huge hit, and afterwards Martin Shaw went off to a long career in TV and film. Collins, on the other hand, had a slightly different arc, meeting with producer Cubby Broccoli  for the part of James Bond (which he lost due to being too aggressive in the audition, apparently); making the hit movie “Who Dares Wins”; then signing a contract with some German / Italian producers to make three action films which were commercial flops, of which “Code Name: Wild Geese” was the first. After that, he did bits and pieces of TV  before retiring from acting to sell computer equipment in the USA.


Collins’ director for his three Italian / German movies was Antony M Dawson (Antonio Margheriti), who also directed ISCFC non-favourite “Yor The Hunter From The Future”, and had a hand in the Andy Warhol-produced “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” movies too. I discover, delightfully, that these movies represent the end (along with ISCFC favourite “Strike Commando”) of the “Macaroni Combat” genre, Italian movies, with Spanish or German involvement, often filmed either in Italy or the Philippines – a genre that lasted from the early 60s to the late 80s. This is a long preamble to a movie which, realistically, doesn’t deserve that much, or any, research.


I’ve not even mentioned the weird casting! As well as Collins and his gang of European soldiers, there’s Ernest Borgnine as their DEA handler Fletcher; Lee Van Cleef as the helicopter pilot who signs on to help partway into the mission; and weirdest of all, Klaus Kinski with a dubbed English accent playing Charleton, the rich guy who’s funding Fletcher’s mission out of the goodness of his heart. That mission is to go into the “Golden Triangle” and destroy some opium refineries and distribution systems, so off set Commander Robin Wesley (Collins) and his guys.


Such emotion!

Such emotion!

To say it’s one-note is almost an insult to things that are one-note. They go into the jungle; kill some drug producers and blow up a refinery; some of them die; go to another place and blow something else up; more of them die; by the time of the last thing to blow up most of them are dead. A woman shows up at 35 minutes, but she’s really not that important and feels like she was inserted because one of the producers realised at the last minute it was a total sausage-fest. There’s also the twist reveal of who the real villain is, which is so obvious I was sure it was going to be a double-bluff – sadly, that was crediting the movie with too much intelligence.


Borgnine and Van Cleef have a grand old time, both seemingly doing it for the sake of a free holiday – although Margheriti directed many of Van Cleef’s spaghetti westerns, and I suppose he wasn’t that expensive to hire by the late 80s. Kinski goes nicely over the top, but his accent is so weird that it was difficult to concentrate on him. Collins, though, was a complete charisma vacuum, a stoic who betrayed no emotion at any time – if it was a character choice, then it’s a really weird one. It’s not like Collins didn’t have the range (he got his start on a sitcom) so, er, I got nothing. It’s hard to have any sort of connection to a lead character when he’s just a blank slate, I guess. There’s a thing about his son dying due to drugs, and this making it personal for him, but you’d never guess that was the case.


The thing is, its very relentlessness and curious choices make it rather entertaining. There’s very little down-time in terms of action and bizarre conversations (seeing Ernest Borgnine act opposite Klaus Kinski is just entertaining in itself), so if you give its leading man a pass, you’ll probably have a good time with this. Just don’t expect too much.


Rating: thumbs in the middle